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December 7-13, 2005

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Crap Culture

Car Culture

Mr. Porter's Opus

'Crap Cars' drives home the humor


By Novella Carpenter

Wouldn't you know that the luscious coffee-table book that attracted my attention at a recent jaunt to a bookstore and got me thinking about gifts for the holidays is simply titled Crap Cars. The book is a visual and verbal assault on 50 of the worst cars ever made in the last 20 years. If I'd written this book (why didn't I?), it would've been too mean, too sarcastic. But under car columnist Richard Porter's light British hand, Crap Cars (Bloomsbury USA; $14.95) is a hilarious delight.

Crap Cars features page after page of crappy cars with their original marketing photos and Porter's pithy analysis of what makes a bad car really bad. Sure, the exact criteria for a crap car is a little hazy, but the author acknowledges in the introduction that the wider variety of choices was "like gorging on the biggest buffet you've ever seen, and just as likely to make you puke."

I'm in love with this fella. The repeating sidebar questions that ask "If This Car Was . . ." are alone worthy of your attention. Take the Cadillac Cimarron, for example: "If This Car Was . . . a Cavalier, you'd have paid a lot less, dumbass." Or the Ferrari 400: "If This Car Was . . . an actual horse, you'd shoot it."

Moving past the one-liners, I did learn a lot about obscure vehicles I'd never heard of before, such as the Nissan NX (1991-'93) which featured interchangeable rear ends that could transform the car between a sedan and a small wagon. Or the Volvo 262C (1977-'81), which answered the question, "What would happen if you sliced the roof off a Volvo sedan and replaced it with what appears to be the top of a mid-'70s pimpmobile?" I also had never seen a Dodge Rampage (1982-'84) before, otherwise it would have made my car/pick-up truck column a few weeks ago.

As for the other 50, I had the unpleasant experience of living all over again. Since I was poor and young in the 1980s (the era of the most dismal crap cars), the other half of the vehicles featured in Crap Cars are those I not only heard of but actually owned or admired deeply. These include the Nissan 300ZX (which Porter terms a "lazy koala"), Chrysler K Car ("weedy little grief-box") and the Datsun B210 ("steering like a wheelbarrow full of logs").

I had forgotten how the Pontiac Fiero had those plastic panels that eventually got sunbleached to an off-shade of pink. Or how truly awful a Chevy Citation looked. Oh, no! I just realized I was shuttled around in a Chevrolet Lumina APV the entire time I was on vacation in Florida. Here it is in Crap Cars as number eight. (I'll never tell you the No. 1 crap car; you'll have to get the book yourself.)

Porter is a saucy little number himself, and writes with a dry humor that I adore for EVO car magazine and British television. He also has a great website at www.sniffpetrol.com. In the style of The Onion, the website is a fake car-news website, written like a blog. For example, one entry reads, "Following the success of this year's Tokyo Motor Show with its dazzling array of concept cars and far-reaching glimpses in the future, the show's organizers have exclusively revealed that next year's show will be held on the moon."

Less absurdly, one article details how Americans are making horrifying choices as the gas crisis takes hold. "Experts say such occurrences can only mean one thing: that the gas price situation has hit so hard, some Americans may even have taken to the last resort of walking. 'I saw this guy yesterday, he was moving along the street but he didn't have a car,' said one shocked eye witness. 'He was kind of moving his legs systematically, one after the other to achieve some sort of forward motion. I can't say how, but it sure looked like he was doing this without burning any gas whatsoever. May God have mercy on us all.'"

Thank you Mr. Porter, for making me laugh.


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Novella Carpenter is a women not only obsessed with cars, but with protecting the environment. Her weekly column balances these two polar-opposite loves while providing handy tips and car-related news items.